…nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles–only James, the Lord’s brother. I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. Later I went to Syria and Cilicia. I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” (Galatians 1:17-23 NIV)
This passage is a treasure because it gives us insight into the Apostle Paul’s post-conversion activities.
It is a little hard to discern the exact length of these activities in Paul’s timeline. We know he was on his way to Damascus when Jesus appeared to Him, and it was in that city Ananias came to explain the special ministry Paul was going to have to the Gentiles. After this Ananias led Paul away to be baptized.
We are also told in Acts 9 that Paul began to boldly proclaim the message of Jesus in Damascus, and that the other believers had to help him escape in a basket through the city wall by night. The difficulty comes as we try to figure out how long Paul was actually in Damascus before his hasty departure. His personal account suggests he went away “immediately,” but Acts reminds us he still had time to stir things up with the gospel before he left.
Paul traveled to Arabia after his escape from Damascus. Why? One writer has suggested he did so in the spirit of the great prophet Elijah, who went into the desert to escape the wrath of Ahab and Jezebel. The desert gave him time to commune with God, cleanse his soul and contemplate a strategy for ministry.
I personally think it is interesting that Paul waited three years to go to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the nerve center of the early church, and certainly he would have wanted to have conversations with the leaders there about his calling from God. But remember, Jerusalem was where Paul had supervised the murder of Stephen as he was stoned like a dog in the streets. He was probably wise to wait as he established his reputation and gave the pain of the Jerusalem Christians time to subside.
This important thing I see here is the fact Paul didn’t leave a life of zealously persecuting the church and begin leading the church overnight. It took time. His salvation was instantaneous, but his ability to influence others came later.
Perhaps you have heard the phrase, “forgiveness is immediate, but trust takes time.” Sometimes people who have hurt others deeply as a result of a sin can’t understand why others don’t trust them. They reason, “Jesus said we should forgive.” Yet, truly forgiveness does not demand trust. Don’t get me wrong: trust can be restored. It’s just a different thing. And those with the wisdom of the Apostle Paul do what they have to do to regain it.
Dear God, teach us to have the right expectations of others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.